When two cousins embarked on a search to find out more about their grandfather, they discovered shocking information that would go on to change their lives forever.
The pages of The Courier-Mail newspaper in the early part of 1947 were splashed with reports of the murder of a 19-year old woman, Bronia Armstrong, found dead in the Brisbane Associated Friendly Society (BAFS) rooms at Brisbane Arcade in Queen Street Mall. It was a tragedy that shocked Brisbane residents as they read about “missing clothes”, “screams & thumps heard”, “dead girl … found dressed in brassiere and black shoes”.
Reginald (Reg) Wingfield Spence Brown was charged with the murder and was imprisoned for life. At the time, Reg Brown was working as an accountant/manager in one of the BAFS rooms and Bronia was his secretary. Just nine days after his sentence was handed down, Brown was found dead, hanged from a window grille in his prison cell, leaving behind a family wracked with grief, including Reg’s wife Eva and his three children Melva, Ian and Valerie.
More than 66 years later, the murder case is back in the public eye. Two descendent cousins – Ian Brown’s daughter, Deb Drummond (of Caboolture), and Valerie Brown’s daughter, Janice Teunis (of St George), have published their own researched findings in their jointly authored book, Lingering Doubts. They claim a highly flawed case and proclaim the innocence of their grandfather, Reg Brown.
The starting point for their book was 14 years ago when Deb visited the Queensland State Library to find out more about her paternal grandfather. She found herself in front of a microfiche file that revealed a picture of Reg Brown with the headline “murder charge”. “It was surreal,” said Deb. “I stared at the screen and felt quite affected. It was hard to get my head around it – we were never told much about him,” she recalls. “I couldn’t rest there; I began to make more enquiries which led me to the Queensland Police Headquarters where I was granted permission to read the files on the case.”
Eventually Deb collaborated with her cousin Janice as assistant and together they spent eight years researching and writing their historical account. “We were living close by then and would hibernate for three to five days at a time working solidly from when we got up until the time we went to bed,” says Janice. “It has been a very emotional journey, however it has also allowed for healing and greater understanding within our families.” With no former writing experience or formal training, the pair has been thrust into the literary world receiving widespread praise for their meticulous work. Lingering Doubts was shortlisted for The Courier-Mail 2014 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year. Retired criminal investigative journalist Bob Bottom OAM has publicly offered his congratulations claiming that it is worthy “of its listing as part of a campaign seeking the establishment of National Criminal Cases Review Commission”. Deb and Janice say there will be no use-by date for their quest for justice and vow to fight for the case to be reviewed. “This is our way to give our grandfather a voice,” says Janice. To find out more go to www.lingering-doubts.com.
Words Kerryn Suttor Images by Dana Gluzde